Cerebral yet high-spirited.

READ REVIEW

THE TROJAN WAR MUSEUM

AND OTHER STORIES

If these 10 short stories took a DNA test, they’d find out they were part myth, part postmodern tale, part encyclopedia entry, part Donald Barthelme.

Repeated elements of Bucak’s debut collection include sideshows and exhibitions; survivors of bombings and genocide; characters known as the Turk, the Terrible Turk, and the Turkish Girl; fourth-wall-breaking addresses to the reader—“I know what she said. But I will not tell you. This is your story, not mine.” There are real people you might not have known about as well as other people who seem real but are made up. Khalil Bey, a diplomat who helped end the Crimean War, also “the world’s most notorious collector of the world’s most notorious collection of erotic art,” is the main character of “An Ottoman’s Arabesque.” Both he and the masterpieces by Courbet and Ingres that he owned are real. A story called “The Dead,” set in Key West, about the annual birthday party thrown by his wife for Edward J. Arapian “a.k.a. The Sponge King” —real people—features an invented character named Anahid Restrepian, a young woman who wrote a book and starred in a popular movie about surviving the Armenian Atrocities. The Starving Girl, a college student from Turkey who stages a hunger strike in a story called “Iconography,” is so fictional that her story offers about a dozen different possible endings. “What do we need to do to make you eat?” the university president and her roommates beg to know. “Change everything,” she says. A favorite is “Mysteries of the Mountain South,” in which a recent college graduate detours to “Appa-latch-ia” to take care of her dying grandmother. She ends up falling in love with a young black mortician, a blogger like her, and learning that her own DNA includes Melungeon, a part-black and part-white racial designation which does in fact have a Wikipedia entry. “Edie and Michael would marry one day. They have to, don’t you think?”

Cerebral yet high-spirited.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00297-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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